The Atlanta Braves brass are at it again. This time they shipped 31-year old journeyman pitcher Lucas Harrell and 27-year old lefty reliever Dario Alvarez, who has spent the bulk of his career in he minor leagues, to the Texas Rangers for the exciting big bat of second baseman Travis Demeritte.
The Rangers received some much needed pitching depth. Harrell is best remembered for his 2013 season in which he led the American League in losses (17) and all of baseball in walks issued (88 in 153.2 innings). Last season he went across seas and played in Korea only to be signed to a minor league deal by the Braves in May. He has played well in his big league renaissance for the Braves posting a 3.38 ERA over five starts.
Alvarez had a big 2014 in Savannah in the Sally, where he made six starts in 20 appearances, but has since moved to a full time bullpen role. He’s made 26 appearances in the bigs over the past three seasons with the Mets and the Braves, posting an 31-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 20 career innings.
In return, the Braves get Demeritte, the 21-year old right-handed hitting second base prospect that many consider a Rangers top 20 prospect. Demeritte brings a big power bat to the infield position, but is quite the free swinger at the plate. He may give Braves fans eery recollections of the numbers Dan Uggla put up in his second base tenure in Atlanta.
Demeritte was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Rangers and went on to post very respectable numbers in his Arizona League half-season debut. He slashed .285/.411/.444 with 12 extra base hits in 144 at bats. He then put himself on the map, both positively and negatively with a big 2014 season in Hickory.
He led the Sally in home runs with 25, but also finished second in strikeouts with a whopping 171 in 466 plate appearances, an alarming 36.7 percent. Hoping to see improved plate discipline before a promotion to High-A in 2015, Demeritte would be suspended for 80 games for violating the minor league PED policy.
Some wondered if he was a product of the PEDs, but his 2016 eased those concerns. He’s still entirely too much of a free swinger — striking out 33.1 percent of the time this season — but he already matched his career high in home runs at 25 while setting a career high in doubles (20) in the power happy California League. He has made much better contact as well, hitting .272 on the season, earning him a spot in the MLB Futures game. He has been on a real tear as of late, amid a 10-game hitting streak that has seen five straight multi-hit performances.
Demeritte also brings good speed and much improved defense to the Braves. He is currently 13-for-16 in stolen bases. Last season, he made just one error at second base, and this year he has posted a .970 fielding percentage. His speed and a fantastic arm has seen him play a little third and short throughout his career, which may be helpful coming to a Braves system that seems locked up in the middle of the infield.
The Braves seem to be winners in this trade. Neither Harrell or Alvarez appear to be pieces that would hang around for the future vision of the constantly rebuilding Braves, and Demeritte brings a lot of potential. Where does he fit in in the long run with Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson seemingly on the verge from becoming the permanent double play combo in Atlanta? That’s too be seen, but his power, speed and defensive skill set seem like a good return.